Past Perfect Continuous Tense

The Past Perfect Continuous tense, also known as Past Perfect Progressive, is used to talk about actions that began in the past and lasted up until another action in the past. The Past Perfect Continuous is related to the Present Perfect Continuous,yet, the duration does not continue until now, it stops before another action in the past. The Past Perfect Continuous tense emphasizes on the duration or course of an action.

The Patterns

Affirmative

Subject + had + been + V-ing (present participle)

Negative

Subject + had + not +been + V-ing (present participle)

Interrogative

Had + Subject +been + V-ing (present participle)


Time Signals

The time signals used with the Past Perfect Continuous Tense among others are for, since, the whole day, all day, etc.

The Uses

The Past Perfect Continuous tense is used to express:

1. action taking place before a certain time in the past;

We use the Past Perfect Continuous to show that something started in the past and continued up until another action happened in the past.

Examples:

  • We had been talking for two hours when we heard someone knocked on the door.
  • They had been waiting for her for 30 minutes when she finally appeared with her innocent face.
  • I had been working for that bank for 10 years when it finally merged with some other banks.
  • How long had you been studying English before you moved to Toronto?

2. cause of something in the past;

The use of Past Perfect Continuous before another action in the past also can function to show cause and effect.

Examples:

  • I was very exhausted because I had been working hard all day.
  • Jame stopped working for the company because he had been starting his own business.
  • Tina didn’t pass the exam because she had not been mastering the subjects well.

3. reported speech;

The Past Perfect Continuous tense is used when the original tense is the Present Perfect Continuous or the Past Continuous.

Examples:

1. Direct speech: She said, “The baby has been crying all night”. (present perfect continuous)
Reported speech: She said that the baby had been crying all night. (past perfect continuous)
2. Direct Speech: Tony said, “I was having dinner at this time last night”. (past continuous)
Reported Speech: Tony said that he had been having dinner at that time the night before. (past perfect continuous)

Past Continuous VS Past Perfect Continuous

If you do not include duration such as for 10 minutes, for a week or since Monday, etc, many English speakers choose to use the Past Continuous rather than the Past Perfect Continuous. It can influence the meaning of the sentence. Past Continuous emphasizes on interrupted actions, whereas Past Perfect Continuous emphasizes on the duration of time before another action in the past.

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